I finished Leanne Shapton’s book Swimming Studies recently. The very first chapter made me long to go for a workout in the pool.
And so I did, on a Wednesday afternoon not long ago — I slipped into my own lane in the 8-lane facility at CU-Boulder, half-watching the clock on the side of the pool and pushing myself to keep up with swimmers half my age and sometimes twice my speed. It was relaxing, and hard, and I had a leg cramp by the end and couldn’t breathe the way I wanted to breathe, but I felt so happy and sleepily satisfied afterward. I began to think that I need to swim more, to cross-train to avoid injuries from running, particularly after a bad run one Saturday where I torqued my right knee and felt so incredibly slow.
Since then, though, I haven’t been doing much exercise while trying to recover from a nasty cold. (Not a good time to swim.) When I was just starting to feel better, I started doing a “seven-minute workout” posted by the New York Times. It makes me breathe hard and it’s definitely strengthening some core muscle groups, but I have a hard time believing it’s enough to keep me in shape.
So, back to running and hiking and biking, and even a day last week spent cross-country skiing that has my legs still aching. Matt has been in town, and we managed a hike up to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, somewhere above 10,000 feet. (Even that didn’t make my legs hurt as much as skiing did!)
But I’ve only gone swimming a handful of times since reading Swimming Studies. The book was a beautiful meditation on competition, and enjoying what you do, and driving yourself to do things at which you might excel, even when you dislike them. I don’t dislike swimming or pushing myself hard in the pool. What I realized, however, is that I dislike something that is particularly American about swimming: chlorination.
Here in the US, we add chlorine to keep the water clean (all those kids and adults peeing in the pool — yuck!). Living in Boulder, a mile high and without much humidity, the inside of my nose is already cracked and desiccated and bloody, and my hair straight and dry, my skin parched. Chlorine only makes that worse. It also creates weird so-called disinfection byproducts — chemical compounds that have can have the potential to cause cancers. These are actually probably fairly minor bad health effects, especially compared to not swimming (or exercising) at all, and while I’m not really worried about it, I don’t like thinking of the cumulative effects of swimming in chlorinated waters.
Back home in Sweden, the chemical cleaner used in the local pool is most likely bromine — less toxic than chlorine, with less impact on swimmers’ health, including their hair and their skin. I never feel as dried out there as I do here in the US after a swim.
There are drawbacks, though, to Swedish swimming: in the Stockholm pool near our house, there’s only one lane in which swimmers can truly have a workout, swimming real laps and not ambling about in circles around the pool’s perimeter. That’s pretty different from the luxury of having a lane of one’s own in the CU Boulder swimming pool.
I might swim again a few more times in that decadent pool. Then again, I might not — spring is back, with the sun and its warmth (equivalent to Swedish summer!). The weather makes it hard to go indoors to exercise. Perhaps workouts should be uncomfortable (work!), but they should also be pleasant and rewarding — exercise is a mental as well as physical task! Swimming is my meditation, but running and hiking can be too.
Either way, I seem to be in the best physical shape I’ve been in ages, with the embarrassment of exercise choices available to me here in Colorado. Perhaps that is counteracting the weight I have gained with the plethora of craft beer choices here in Colorado? That’s another post altogether…